The Los Angeles Dodgers were a mere six outs away from defeating the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series and being in position to play for the pennant a fourth consecutive year.
Then a series of unfortunate events transpired that led to an earlier-than-anticipated postseason exit. Still clinging to a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning, matters unraveled for the Dodgers when Clayton Kershaw returned to the mound against the heart of the Nationals lineup.
Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto changed the outcome of the series in a blink of an eye with back-to-back home runs against Kershaw on consecutive pitches, allowing Washington to even the score.
The Nationals rode that momentum into extra innings, where Howie Kendrick’s game-winning grand slam in the 10th propelled the franchise to a stunning NLDS victory over the Dodgers.
Kershaw took full responsibility for the Game 5 loss while Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has additionally received some flack for his decision to send the left-hander back to the hill in the first place.
Dodgers president of Andrew Friedman nevertheless saw the upside of Kershaw pitching out of the bullpen in Game 5. “Kersh is not the exact same pitcher he was three years ago; still think he had a really good year this year,” Friedman began to explain.
“From my standpoint, in determining the starting rotation order, you really could’ve gone any way you wanted to. Buehler, from our standpoint, just had the greatest potential to take down more outs and pitch better.
“With Ryu and Kersh, both really good, and with Kersh, there was the ability to come out of the bullpen in Game 5 whereas Ryu didn’t feel comfortable doing that in the past. You don’t know when it starts where your pitching is after Game 4, if your starter in Game 5 doesn’t get that many outs. There’s just a lot of things that could play out, to have that additional arm going into Game 5 is a helpful thing.
“I feel like I’ve got a good feel for where Kersh is. He’s a really good Major League pitcher today. It’s more about the comfort of being able to warm up to come into a game. Kersh had a really good year as a starting pitcher in 2019. That’s objectively true. He was really good as a starting pitcher. A starting pitcher who is really comfortable coming out of the bullpen can be a really attractive option, depending on how you want to look at it.”
While Kershaw has put together one of the most impressive résumés for any MLB starting pitcher in the modern era, his history in the postseason has been a mixed bag. “I think he’s had some gems,” Friedman began when discussing how Kershaw has fared in the playoffs.
“I think there’s games where he’s pitched extremely well and I think there’s games he’s struggled. To discredit, he’s had a lot of opportunities in the postseason, and he’s a big part of the reason why. I think when that happens, the heightened awareness that goes on in October, and the more opportunity, allows for more chances of some games not to go as well as others.
“Again, when we sign a player or are around a player, so much of our assessment is based on them doing everything they can to put themselves in the best position to have success. It’s up to us to evaluate talent. I can’t remember feeling better than any one player than Kershaw in terms of how much he cares, how much he prepares, how much he pours into it.
“That’s all we can ask for from a player. And then it’s about us lining up and assessing talent. I feel like we had a room full of people that did everything they could and put everything the had into us winning 11 games in October.”